Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks, Matt Groening, and Hayao Miyazaki. Known by many as some of the best animators of all time, these giants in the animation industry are responsible for creating classics like Cinderella and Mickey Mouse and more modern animations like The Simpsons.
But like everybody, they had to start their animation journey somewhere and were once coined as 'up and coming' before establishing themselves as world-renowned animators. These days, many more animators are sharing their works and journeys on popular social media channels like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.
Across these various platforms and disciplines of 2D animation, stop-motion, mixed media, storyboarding, and more, eight modern animators have gained a following and are on a fast break to solidifying their mark in the animation industry.
In this blog post, we’ll get to know more about some of the top modern animators to watch out for, their past and most recent projects, and current animation career milestones!
Up-and-Coming Modern Animators to Watch Right Now
1) The Copeland Brothers: Justin and Chris Copeland
Creativity must be something that ran in the drinking water of the Copeland household. Born and raised on the North Side of Chicago, United States, Justin, and Chris Copeland are siblings who are quickly becoming renowned modern animators.
Having worked as directors and storyboard artists for over ten years, the Copeland brothers initially thought that their dream of pursuing a career in animation was beyond their wildest dreams.
But after networking and attending conventions for years and having received encouragement from fellow animators, Chris and Justin Copeland sought a career in animation at full force.
Fast forward to the present, and these two modern animators have worked with some of the best animation production companies like Warner Brothers, Dreamworks, Disney, Marvel Studios, and Cartoon Network.
In an interview that Justin and Chris Copeland did with Wacom, the brothers and co-collaborators said they find animation inspiration from being a part of what’s going on around them and staying up-to-date on what other artists are doing through scrolling sites like Instagram, Twitter, Pixiv, and ArtStation.
Notable works by Justin and Chris Copeland include the 2019 direct-to-video animated superhero film Wonder Woman: Bloodlines, Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the TV series Guardians of the Galaxy, and Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts.
2) Domee Shi
Chinese-born Canadian modern animator Domee Shi is making waves in the animation industry. After working as a storyboard artist for the 2015 American 3D computer-animated adventure comedy-drama, Inside Out, and the animation adventure drama, The Good Dinosaur, Domee Shi's contributions to the films put her on the map.
But her popularity skyrocketed after being the first woman ever to solo-direct a short film for Pixar. Inspired by her familial relationships and their immigration story, Domee Shi wrote and directed Bao, a Pixar short that dives into the ups and downs of the parent-child relationship through the colorful, rich, and tasty lens of the Chinese immigrant community in Canada.
Since its initial release in 2018, Bao has received plenty of nominations and won the Academy Award for Best Short Film (Animated). Modern animators like Domee Shi continue to find ways to represent the Asian community in their work while simultaneously breaking down borders in Hollywood.
She's only getting started, too, because, in 2022, Domee Shi hit another animation career milestone by making her directorial feature debut with the animated coming-of-age fantasy comedy film, Turning Red.
3) Wendell Dalit
You may not know it yet, but the chances are you have already come across some of Wendell Dalit's creations, especially if you are a Marvel fan.
Born in Manila, Philippines, but raised in San Jose, California, Wendell Dalit is a rising animation star, having already worked on the Academy Award-winning animation Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as a visual development artist.
The Emoji Movie is also one of the successful animations under his belt. Though he has always been artistic since a young age, like other modern animators, Wendell Dalit didn't think he would end up pursuing a career in animation.
But in his second year of college, he decided to switch gears and take up Illustration at San Jose State University. His hard work, talent, and dedication to the craft allowed him to get hired fresh out of college to work as a visual development artist on Smurfs: The Lost Village.
The movie would go on to gross over 45 million dollars in the United States alone. Currently, Wendell Dalit works as the art director for Vivo, the first-ever animated musical by Sony Picture's Animations, featuring all-new songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has written three songs from the Disney hit animated movie Encanto.
4) Sung Shin
Sung Shin's animation career didn't start like other modern animators. Initially, Sung Shin studied English literature in college with plans of working as a writer instead of an animator. But after taking up art classes in a community college, he was inspired to take his career beyond writing and attended the California Institute of the Arts for a year.
But when finding 2D animation projects in the U.S was getting more difficult by the day, Sung Shin decided to take a chance and work overseas in South Korea for Studio Mir.
That gamble paid off as the modern animator got to work on various projects, most notably on The Legend of Korra, the sequel to the hit animation Avatar: The Last Airbender that aired from 2005 to 2008.
Having made connections during his time in Studio Mir, Sung Shin found his way back to America. Sung Shin landed animation jobs and honed his animator skills further as he worked on films like Avengers Assemble, Young Justice, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Voltron: Legendary Defender.
While working on these blockbusters, he also found time to direct a couple of live-action shorts. Some of Sung Shin's most recent work includes Nickelodeon's 2021 sci-fi show Star Trek: Prodigy, a brand new variation of the more than 55-year-old franchise.
5) James Rallison
James Rallison, better known as TheOdd1sOut, is more than just part of a group of modern animators. He is also a writer, cartoonist, voice actor, and American YouTuber. With a massive following on his YouTube channel, TheOdd1sOut, of over 17.7 million subscribers, James Rallison has consistently been uploading animations since 2014.
When he first started his channel, he was just 19 years old. Since then, James Rallison's animations have a combined view number of more than 3 billion on YouTube. And yes, that was not a typo.
We mean billions. Like other modern animators, James Rallison started his animation career by uploading his webcomic TheOdd1sOut on Tumblr in 2012. Despite being in the limelight, not much is known about James Rallison's personal life and whether or not he received a formal education in animation.
However, one thing is for sure he has built his animation career from the ground up. Besides being an animator, he has branched out and released other projects, including writing books in 2018 titled How to Be Cool and Other Things I Learned from Growing Up, and in 2020, The First Sequel.
He even released an official mobile game in 2020 dubbed TheOdd1sOut: Let's Bounce and a couple of tabletop games, all of which were warmly received.
6) Science Akbar A.K.A King Science
The 22-year-old animator, Science Akbar, typically known as King Science, is as modern as modern animators go. With over 12.7 million followers and 182.8M likes on TikTok, King Science is one of the top animators on TikTok and among the app's most-followed content creators.
King Science's signature animation style pops with color and quality. He regularly publishes music videos and comedic animation shorts, which often contain deadpan jokes and references to pop culture.
King Science's animations are so popular that entertainment magazines like Hollywood Reporter and news websites like The Verge, under Vox Media, featured the young modern animator.
King Science has also managed to lock down partnerships with the NBA and other big companies and brands like HP and Adobe. The future seems bright for this modern animator who plans to continue sharing stories through animation with his loyal followers, who seem to be growing by the thousands each month.
7) Lizz Hickey
Are you a fan of watching and scrolling through animation shorts on TikTok? Then you probably are familiar with modern animator Lizz Hickey's works! One of which is Official Helga & Honey or @weirdhelga on TikTok, which she created with the media company BuzzFeed, and fellow cartoonist and animator Jonni Phillips.
Official Helga & Honey has over 6 million followers and 147.6 million likes on TikTok. The cartoon shorts depict the day-to-day antics of Helga, which are comedic and relatable. The modern animator has been working in the animation business for more than ten years, after graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Purchase College, State University of New York.
Lizz Hickey has worked for VICE Media, Inc., where she drew original comics for the official site and has created animated pilots for the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. But Lizz Hickey isn't only a freelance animator.
Similar to other modern animators, Lizz Hickey is multitalented. She, too, works as a creative director and voice actor. Lizz Hickey was also the production assistant and animator for Louis Vuitton Virgil Abloh's The Adventures of Zoooom With Friends.
8) Fernanda Frick
Modern animator Fernanda Frick is an animation director, cartoonist, and illustrator. Her art burst into the international scene when her animated short film Here's the Plan went viral in 2017. The animated movie has over 9 million views on YouTube and depicts the married life of a cat and dog couple who dream of owning a bakery.
Fernanda Frick's Here's the Plan has been nominated in plenty of international festivals and won 4 awards, one of which is the Best Chilean Short Film award in 2017 from the Chilemonos International Animation Festival.
Compared to all the other modern animators on the list, Fernanda Frick is the only one from Chile. She was initially self-taught before graduating from the online animation school, Animation Mentor.
Fernanda Frick has been making waves in the Chilean animation scene since she first dipped her toes in it. Currently, she owns her own studio, appropriately called the Fernanda Frick studio, where she develops, manages, directs, and collaborates with other talented animators.
Fernanda Frick continues to hit milestones with Netflix developing her slice-of-life slash sports series, Raise The Bar!, a story about a female high school student working towards her dream of becoming a world champion weightlifter. Raise The Bar! will be the first Netflix animated series from Chile.
The Animation Business Is in Good Hands With These Modern Animators
It is safe to say that the animation industry will only continue to thrive. The rise of social media platforms, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, enable aspiring and seasoned animators to get animation inspiration from new sources and upload their works to reach a broader audience.
Modern animators also continue to find and explore fresh ways of developing their creations with the advancements in technology and software. And though we only mentioned eight modern animators, we know there is no shortage of talented animators. We wish we could all fit them into one blog!
If you want to get an inside scoop into the business of animation, check out our free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and take a look at our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!